Nabunturan is a town deep in Compostela Valley. Its name comes from buntod, which means mountain.
We were in Nabunturan from August 22 to 27, although some came in earlier. Mostly young filmmakers of full-length feature films and those who make short films. To the uninitiated, the event is called “Cinema Rehiyon”, which brings as well institutions like the National Commission of Culture and the Arts and the Film Development Council of the Philippines, the latter under Liza Dino.
Karen Santiago Malaki, a lawyer, was at the helm of the festival. She was very visible each day, and her husband, Rocky, would be in and out. He would tell me in a teasing manner how he had to work so that Karen can manage the festival. There was another highly visible person during our stay in Nabunturan, Mayor Chelita Amatong. She gave short and sweet speeches, a model for all politicians to think about.
On the first day we learned a new name: ComVal, an abbreviation of the name for the region. A hotel is named ComVal, behind which Villa Amor sits. Most of the delegates were booked there. The other filmmakers and some guests, including this critic, were all billeted in Cozy Quartelle. Names of places usually ran as counterpoint to what they are. The place where we stayed lived up to its name. At night, when forums and screenings were over, many delegates discovered they could repair to where we were. The drinks were plentiful, the conversations honest and full of candor. Each night was enough to thaw and melt the timidity and aloofness common among film artists. The nights there enabled many to bloom like the wild orchids of the region with newfound wit and wisdom about life and cinema.
On the second day, we noticed the uniforms of very young men and women waiting on us during lunch and dinner. They came from the National High School in the area. They were volunteers.
In the early afternoons, the drizzle came. The air became cooler, and I discovered the power of a nap. When the rains became strong, we looked for any sign of the silver lining that would allow the open-air screening of films. When the rains persisted, we knew the gods had different plans. We shifted the screening to the alternative covered venues where people could sit and enjoy the films.
One night, the gods were kinder. Bagane Fiola’s “Baboy Halas” was screened outdoors in the town park. With the aid of the inflatable screen made possible by Blaine Johnson, we journeyed deep into the wilderness of the lumad called the “Matigsalog”, or “of the river”.
Each morning, a thick fog settled in the town. We took our breakfast in the small quadrangle of our hotel. The cups of coffee were cinema paradiso as the fog lifted and sunlight eased in. At night, there was nip in the air. The travel guide was correct: Bring pullover and jacket, as the late afternoon could be chilly. In the plaza, with our cap to warm our head, we learned about life in the valley.
On the last day we travelled an hour to a farm. There were food stations scattered around the assembly point. One table was groaning with the fruits of the land—santol, dragon fruit and all types of durian. I settled for the more common langka. The air was heady with the scent of the fruits, but the hospitality was headier.
There was a night market, but the rice cakes and other delicacies there always would run out by the time we were there. Some of us traveled to the barangay where we saw all kinds of rice cake and suman of varying sizes, sweetness and persuasion.
Inside the heart of some of us, we were worried the festival will fail. Nabunturan Cinema Rehiyon 9 exceeded all our expectations. There are reasons. The festival management was impeccable; the volunteers were efficient. But, I think it was really the town that went all out to support the gathering.
On the morning of our departure, the fog was back again. Nabunturan, this small and simple town, was bidding us goodbye in the mist.
This essay, if you have not noticed yet, is a product of separation anxiety, of missing the town and its gracious people.
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